Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lost UAV or Trojan Horse?

I'm sure you've read all the hoopla about the Iranians capturing a U.S. spy drone.  The news media has asked just about every intelligence "expert" they have on their rosters.  Most have taken the bait and sensationalized the story almost beyond belief.  The other day I heard someone call it a "massive intelligence failure". Others have claimed the Iranians will reverse engineer  this aircraft (actually the Iranians said this) and use its "stealth" technology.  Some have even lauded the "success" of Iran's first unmanned bombing drone also supposedly equipped with "stealth" technology.  You would think these guys were Romulans.

All I have to say is "Thank heavens for NPR".  Seriously folks.  This is getting ridiculous.  Let's break this situation down so we can reach an objective conclusion.

  1. These aircraft have very little memory storage.  They use most memory for navigation and some automatic flight controls.  In other words, THE IRANIANS HAVE NO CLUE WHAT WE WERE TAKING PICTURES OF.  What they have, more than likely, is standard flight recorder information.  I would be somewhat concerned they may have acquired secure encrypted communication information such as code keys or frequencies.  I'm certain, however, that information was immediately nullified upon the realization the drone was lost in hostile territory.
  2. Stealth technology isn't all that secret any more.  This is a drone using technology which may be several generations old by now.  It takes the Pentagon a VERY long time to design, test, and produce a viable defense system of any caliber.  With each design and testing cycle, new information is then disseminated for the next generation in the same technology class.  In plain English, we designed and built several stealth aircraft over three decades.  More than likely, this drone was created and tested, at least five years ago if not more before it was ever operational.  That being said, our rivals build and design at the same pace if not faster.  A great example of this and our only viable rival in stealth technology are the Chinese.  Their latest design is strikingly similar to our F-35.  We won't even get into the supposed stealth technology the Iranians claim they have.  You have to remember it took them decades to build their own domestic aircraft with limited success.  
  3. According to NPR, "When an F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter was shot down over Serbia in 1999, it was feared to be an "unmitigated disaster," says Jonathan Reed Winkler, a professor at Wright State University who specializes in foreign relations and military history.  But Winkler points out that the U.S. military had already been flying the craft for nearly two decades.  "These particular military technologies are not the most cutting edge. They are simply the ones that are operationally useful, and so are out in the field," he says."
  4. There has been some conjecture the Iranians shot the drone down as opposed to using sophisticated air defense systems along with communication jamming equipment as proposed by some.  I would imagine these systems are flown via satellite link with advanced encryption to prevent adversarial eavesdropping. It is HIGHLY doubtful the Iranians possess the technology to unencrypt let alone jam the signals of the drone and the satellite.  If they do, why not use it in their Iraq campaign against the U.S.?  Because these drones are attempting to capture live video with actionable data, it is likely they're not fast moving and thus susceptible to visual detection from ground units and aircraft.  
Conclusion:  I have my own theory as to why/how a "stealth" aircraft would/could get lost in Iran - Trojan horse.  If I wanted to gain insight into my enemy's most guarded secrets, I would use the juiciest piece of bait I had and let him believe he took it.  I would do this knowing all along I implanted software which when uploaded on to their computers would relay back the intelligence I was seeking.  All I lose is a drone with no military value, a small public relations debacle, and the inconvenience of changing some sensitive communications information.  Don't think it would work.  Ever hear of Stuxnet?

Here are some pictures of Iranian "stealth" technology:


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